The South Korean government is under pressure to restart its fighter jet program KF-X and cancel the purchase of F-35 stealth fighters if needed.
Growing uncertainties to procure technology transfer from the US is stated as a major reason for demands from some politicians and critics to restart the program entirely to develop a fighter jet all by itself, Korea Times reported Monday.
"It is not an easy decision to cancel the F-35 deal, but the idea is well worth considering if it is hard for Korea to acquire the U.S. technology through the deal," Rep. Kim Kwang-jin of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) was quoted by the news daily as saying.
Kim noted that the government appeared to have already considered cancelation, citing that the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has estimated expenses that the nation must pay as a cancellation charge if the F-35 deal is cancelled.
During a session of the National Assembly Defense Committee on Nov. 25, a DAPA official told lawmakers that the cost of cancelation would be an estimated $1.2 billion.
"It would take about two years to calculate the exact amount," the official said. "There is a possibility that the amount could go down from the estimate after a detailed examination."
The state-run procurement agency noted that it has also considered reducing the number of F-35s to be purchased from 40 to 20.
"In this case, the total cost is expected to go down by one third," said the official.
The transfer of 25 technologies was included in an offset deal with Lockheed Martin in return for Korea's purchase of 40 F-35s at 7.3 trillion won ($6.33 billion), signed in September last year, as the Air Force's next-generation fighter.
In April, the U.S. government refused to allow Lockheed to hand over four core technologies, including its active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, to Korea for security reasons.
"One of the reasons why the KF-X project is facing difficulties is that the U.S. is not too happy about Korea developing its own fighter jets," he said. "The U.S. is concerned about the possible decline of its fighter jet exports, which would also reduce the level of dependence of its allies on Washington.”
The U.S. State Department said last week that it would provide maximum support for Korea's fighter jet development project, dismissing speculation that the department was negative about approving the transfer of some technologies.
"The United States continues to support the Republic of Korea's defense programs and priorities through the transfer of many of our most sensitive defense technologies," said State Department spokeswoman Katina Adams.
"We seek to support the KF-X indigenous fighter program to the maximum extent possible," she said. "The U.S. government is in discussions with Lockheed Martin to address ROK areas of concern. We will continue to work closely with Lockheed Martin throughout this process to ensure continued support to the KF-X program."